Service Company, 186 Infantry Hard Labor, Wounds and Death

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, 41st Division Historian

Service Company had the payroll section, the mail section, the medical detachment, vehicle maintenance, and three ammo sections, one for each of 186's three rifle battalions. Above all, we "kept on trucking" ammo, food, water and medicines to 186's Companies.

Along with Regimental Headquarters Company, Cannon Company, and Anti-Tank Company, we were in the Provisional Battalion. All three companies could be "decentralized"; that is, assigned partly or wholly to other outfits. For example, Service Company was detached from 186 Infantry's main body and held back six weeks from returning to Australia. We were assigned to detached 2nd Battalion 186 Infantry to defend 6th Army Headquarters at Milne Bay. (There was no fighting.) About six months later after refitting and training in Australia, Service 186 embarked for Biak. On May 27, 1944, main body of Service landed dry and unopposed on Bosnek Jetty.

With Regimental Headquarters, we bivouacked at the base of Bosnek cliffs. Jap raiders flew over us to bomb and strafe our ships. First kamikaze of World War II happened here. The plane sideswiped a 110-foot sub chaser and started a fire quickly putout.

Since 162 Infantry was halted in three days of combat at Parai Field, 186 Infantry made their dry fighting overland march to take Mokmer Strip from the ridges behind it. After six days pushing west, 186 Infantry was ready on June 7 to strike down on the strip from Mokmer Ridge east of it. While 186's 2nd Battalion and 3rd Battalion waited orders to advance abreast into the strip, Service Company men were to follow them with 2nd Battalion.

After early morning field artillery preparation that June 7, 186 infantry started down to Mokmer Strip at 0730. By 0850, the leading two battalions had seized the strip without fighting and was beginning to organize the beachhead bordering the strip. About 0915 most of Service Company was hand-carrying supplies down to the beach, along with 2nd Battalion and Service Company.

On the strip half an hour later, Service men were under heavy shellfire from Mokmer Ridge which we had by-passed because of misguided pressure from Generals Fuller and Krieger. Service Company had our first casualties on Biak. T/5 Alvin E Lenaburg was seriously wounded and T/5 Golden H Crane lightly wounded - other details about the wound unreported.

A third service man was wounded - although he was not with our company but on another part of the ground. T/4 Raymond F Pasvogel was attached as a typist to Regimental Headquarters Section. When shell fragments from a Jap .75 mm mountain gun - "Whistling Charlie" - caught Headquarters men in the open, they dived into the handiest shell crater. In it, Pasvogel was safe - with Colonel Newman, Majors Dillon and Anderson and other officers.

Or Pasvogel was safe, if he had stayed in the hole. But the radio operator with his bulky equipment still lay prone outside the crater. Pasvogel crawled out to drag him below ground to safety.

A fragment tore through Pasvogel's pack and lightly wounded him in his upper back. It just missed the bottle of beer he had treasured in his pack. After returning, patched up by the Medics that night, he reclined in his hole and drank that precious beer. It never tasted better!

During 186's first days on Mokmer Strip, two more men were lightly wounded. Captain George R Marx was hit on June 8, and T/5 Grover J Pingelton on June 10. Other facts on these wounds are unknown.

But all of Service Company did not march with our Regiment overland to take Mokmer Strip from the rear. Other men helped to make a seaside base between Mokmer Strip and Sboeria Village to stockpile supplies from Bosnek.

It was probably on the night of June 7 that Mail Sergeant Roger Scofield with others boarded a landing craft for run to Sboeria. As our Amphibious Engineers nosed their crafts through darkness to seek landing, Japs fired down on us from Mokmer Ridge. We heard their shells rip the air above and splash into the sea behind us.

Our leaders said that we had nothing to worry about, for the ridge-top Japs could not depress their guns low enough to hit us. But they still kept us on edge.

As we closed into shore, lights flashed to help us make contact with waiting 186 men. Jap radiomen kept trying to jam our signals. When our operator swore over it, "Shut up, you slant-eyed SOB!" the Jap operator replied, "Same you, ME-I-CAN bastud. Same you!"

The Amphibious Engineers had to circle until daylight because they were unsure whether or not they might land among lurking Japs. Then we did land under shelling from Mokmer Ridge, and ran zig-zag from shell crater to shell crater. Machine guns firing down from the right raised the dust close to us.

Yet as our field artillery counter-fire killed their guns, we could set up a Service base. We went back to our routine of carrying mail for our regiment, maintaining vehicles, and hauling supplies.

First truckload of mail came sopping wet. Many packages had fallen apart. Address labels had dropped off. Water had blurred handwritten names and addresses. Wrist watches, pocket knives, rings, pipes, tobacco - even whiskey lay loose outside mail containers.

Normally, most of this pile would have gone to the San Francisco dead letter office. But through company clerks, we asked men to tell us what gifts they had expected and to try to identify them. Judging by our compliments plus lack of complaints, we feel sure that most of the gifts went to their rightful owners.

Scofield never forgot his happy encounter with truly courteous General Horace Fuller. Returning to Service Company from hospital in his suntans, Scofield got orders to "ride shotgun" to guard Pappy Chastanier's 6 x 6 ammo and ration truck to the front. Still in suntans, Scofield carried not a shotgun but a tommy when he jumped into the truck.

On the way to the front, they drove into a one-way lane. Lined with coconut trees, it was too narrow for two vehicles to pass. A command jeep then came at them from the opposite direction.

Chastanier flashed warning lights, but the command jeep kept right on coming. General Fuller was in it. His driver called, "Can't you see this is a command car?" Chastanier shouted, "We got rations and ammo for the front!" Fuller ordered his driver to back up until he could pull aside to let Chastanier pass.

They unloaded near the front lines at nightfall and had to try to sleep there until morning. Gunfire never ceased all night. At dawn, a lieutenant and 7-8 other men loaded into their 6 x 6.

That night, some Japs had felled a roadblock of trees to stop us to make easy targets. They shot at us. While Scofield fired his tommy at the sound of their rifles, Chastanier put his truck into high and jolted across the logs to the open road and safety.

After Biak Battle officially closed on August 20, Nippo planes hit Service Company in a deadly little air raid about two weeks later, the night of September 7-8. Service was then in garrison, camped in a line of pyramidal tents with other Provisional Battalion Companies. On the low ridge above Mokmer Strip, we bivouacked in tents gleaming in bright moonlight. At 0230, most service men slept deeply after hard labor. They had been tuning up 186's vehicles for the Philippine invasion.

Only T/4 Rudie of the gas detail and T/4 Linklater of the Parts Department were awake - just off guard. At 0230, Rudie was still awake enough to hear the air raid warning. With Edward Linklater and T/4 Gordon Trif, he alarmed others in the tent, mostly mechanics. Of maybe 10 men, they roused out six - all but T/4 Perry Distefano and T/S "Zeke" Jones. T/5 Glenn R Jones was delirious and could not be saved in those few moments.

Rudie heard a plane dive down the tent row. The first bomb whistled down and exploded. At 150 yards down the tent row, the second bomb also whistled and exploded. Rudie rightly expected the third bomb to explode in his tent.

Twenty feet behind the tent lay a deep sandbagged bomb shelter. Frank Rudie almost flew into this hole. Master Sergeant Bodie Lyon, T/4s Carlos Berriocha, Linklater, and Trif; Kowaluska and Edward Barbee - all leaped in. T/5 Russell Hull and Trif had dug the hole, but Hull was crowded out. T/5 Hull flattened under a 2-1/2 ton GMAC truck.

The leaping men cleared the top sandbag tier on ground level just as the third bomb blasted. They called it a daisy cutter, but it actually shredded the tent and smashed a hole a foot deep into the coral. The impact bounced Rudie around in their hole and creased his helmet. T/4 Elvin Imus, Linklater, Berriocha took light flesh wounds. Hull's arm was blown off. T/4 Perry T Distefano was dead.

Hull lay still living outside the hole, his arm blown off, the bone exposed. Rudie started to doctor Hull, but about a mile away, the planes were circling back. But Mokmer Strip searchlight guided AckAck to explode shells ahead of them. They disappeared back into the moonlight.

Out of the hole again, Rudie deftly tourniqueted Hull to halt the massive bleeding, and sprinkled sulfa on raw flesh. Two tents away, they found the Medic and recovered morphine capsules from his shell-torn kit to somewhat ease the pain for Hull and lmus. Both men survived. (On June 28, 1944, Hull's parents wrote to thank Rudie. Alive and recovered stateside, Hull was just about to leave for the hospital for his artificial arm.)

This Jap air raid of Sept. 7-8, 1944, was perhaps the only even lightly effective raid against our 41st Division on Biak. Only known results were a shredded tent, an oil dump briefly aflame, three deaths, at least two lifelong cripples, and some light wounds.

The raid was so quick that accurate facts on the Nippo planes are hard to find. We have statements that they were a fleet of 12-14 planes - and another that there were only 4-5 planes. We are sure that one was a medium bomber. They might have slipped in from a hidden airfield in western New Guinea, or north of us from Halmahera.

Such are almost all of the available facts of the history of Service Company 186 Infantry on Biak and the New Guinea mainland. Except for that final air raid and earlier dangers in taking Mokmer Strip, Service Company's main achievement was hard, dependable labor for our regiment.

 

CREDIT: Basis for this history is Roger Scofield's two-page single-spaced typescript (1984), a similar five pages from Ray Pasvogel (April 26, 1983), and five pages handwritten from Don Culp (September 24,1988). Trif sent a note of corrections (January 6, 1989). For the air raid, besides Trif's note, I have these undated sources (all from 1988): Gordon Trif and Edward Linklater's three-page single-spaced typescript, another handwritten note also by Trif, with 2.5 pages by Frank Rudie, with his letter from Mr. and Mrs. Ben Hull (January 28, 1944).  I owe a final thanks, however, to William F. Johnson of Service Company who contacted men to tell me of that final air raid.